On Catholic-Muslim Relations
EWTN’s interview with Cardinal Parolin took place in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where the cardinal had traveled to participate in the Holy See’s national day on March 19 at the Dubai Expo.
The cardinal was in Dubai on the day that the Vatican released a new apostolic constitution on the ninth anniversary of the start of Pope Francis’ pontificate.
Parolin said that it was Pope Francis’ personal decision to have the Vatican participate in the Dubai Expo as the Holy See continues to work to build a “constructive relationship with the Islam and the Arabic world.”
The Vatican’s chief diplomat noted that the Holy See has “many initiatives” within the UAE, recalling that Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso, the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, also traveled to the UAE last month.
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, traveled to Dubai for the exhibit’s inauguration in October.
“My experience is an experience of great openness,” Parolin said of his diplomatic work in the UAE.
“I had been here a few years ago for the consecration of a new church in Abu Dhabi and in that occasion also I had the chance to experience and to see that the authorities were very open to the Catholic Church.”
He added that the goal of the Holy See’s participation in the Dubai expo was “to know each other better.”
Parolin noted that in a conversation with a local government official, the Emirati leader had commented that he was impressed by how well the Vatican officials he had encountered “knew Islam.”
Cardinal Ayuso, for example, speaks fluent Arabic and was a professor of Islamic studies in Cairo before Pope Francis appointed him to lead the Catholic Church’s interreligious dialogue initiatives. Ayuso is president of the Higher Committee on Human Fraternity.
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“I think that the Catholic Church is doing its best through its institution to know better and to understand better the others, and we hope that this will be … let’s say, there will be a reciprocity,” Parolin said.
The Dubai Expo is the first world’s fair to be held in the Middle East. The Vatican Library has sent three original manuscripts which are currently on display in the Holy See pavilion.
The oldest of the documents is an Arabic translation of the Greek scholar Theon of Alexandria’s introduction to Ptolemy’s “Handy Tables,” produced between 800 A.D. and 830 A.D. by the Bayt al-Ḥikmah, or House of Wisdom, in Baghdad. It is the first time that the manuscript has left the Vatican Library.
The Holy See is participating in the expo despite a call from the European Union’s law-making body for its member states to signal disapproval of what it described as human rights violations in the UAE by not participating in the expo.
Human Rights Watch also issued a statement arguing that the UAE’s attempts to “promote a public image of openness” with the expo were “at odds with the government’s efforts to “prevent scrutiny of its rampant systemic human rights violations.”
“Since 2011 UAE authorities have carried out a sustained assault on freedom of expression and association, arresting and prosecuting hundreds of independent lawyers, judges, teachers, students, and activists, and shutting down key civil society associations and the offices of foreign organizations, effectively crushing any space for dissent,” said the statement published Oct. 1, 2021.